I finally made it up to the Helena this week — and let me tell you, that place is popping. The session is in its prime and you should definitely find some time to jump in the figurative deep end. Honestly, the capitol building can be kind of intimidating — at least for me. Just like jumping in the deep end of a pool, it helps to have some kind of flotation device. Consider the citizen lobby days listed below your life jacket. Also, remember that Montana is one of just four states that has a true citizen legislature, meaning that your legislators are just regular folks — they just happen to be wearing suits and walking really fast.
Sometimes We All Get Tired of Sunsets
This week, FMT staffers testified on behalf of SB 152, which would make the 6-Mill Levy that we all voted on in November permanent. Right now the levy has to be re-approved by Montana voters every ten years, and while Montanans have voted to keep it for the past seventy years — yes, you read seventy right — the costs of passing the 6-Mill Levy via ballot measure keep going up. Plus, students, many of whom are already struggling to make ends meet, have to deal with the anxiety of the 6-Mill Levy not passing and their tuition increasing by 20 percent. Affording college is already stressful enough (I should know, I just graduated in May). Let’s get rid of this sunset and just make it regular old funding, eh!
The Keystone XL pipeline is on the move again, but there’s a couple bills that would help stop Eastern Montana from becoming a giant puddle of oil after leaks. SB 97 would require that the environmental impact reports for pipeline applications include how the pipeline would impact cultural sites, which could give indigenous communities a stronger argument in protecting their land from pipelines. HB 271 would require that pipelines not be built near places like wilderness areas and cultural sites. Both bills would require the installation of shut-off valves to protect from leaks or pipeline bursts.
We know that the fossil fuel execs are going to go ham on the whole “creating jobs” thing here, so it’s pretty important that you hit up the House and Senate Natural Resources Committees to remind them that short term jobs in exchange for longterm damange isn’t greeeeaaaattttt.
MeRIA… A Bad Bill Not an STD
Any time a legislator starts talking about “integrity”, you know it’s gonna be bad. We finally get to learn the details of Sen. Ed Buttrey’s Medicaid Reform and Integrity Act, extremely creepily nicknamed “MeRIA,” and it’s pretty much exactly what we expected.
Buttrey wants to require Medicaid participants to log 80 hours a month of “community engagement” time. Requirements like these have the unintended consequence of taking away coverage from people who meet them because of all the extra paperwork and red tape. People could end up losing coverage for all sorts of reasons — if their kid gets sick and they can’t work, or if they’re sent home early from their job waiting tables, or if they don’t have access to reliable internet to report their hours. And losing health coverage can make it waaaay harder to find work.
There’s no proof that strict requirements for earning health coverage increases long-term employment. There’s actually evidence that Medicaid expansion increases workforce participation among low-income Montanans, probably through the voluntary job assistance that’s offered along with the health coverage.
But, who needs proof, right? Decision makers should definitely treat Medicaid expansion the same way they treat things like Climate Change and teen pregnancy. That’s worked out really well for us.
Voting Rights 101
Two bills to watch regarding voting this session:
SB 149 would make the Secretary of State’s office responsible for return postage on ballots. There’s plenty of research that shows that paying postage on a ballot can be a significant barrier for young and low-income people in voting. If you’re old enough to remember a time without email, you may be scoffing at the idea of buying a stamp as a barrier, but let’s remember that in a free and fair election there shouldn’t be any fees associated with voting — even the 50 cent fee of a stamp.
SB 181 would require parole and probation officers to tell probationers and parolees that they’re legally allowed to vote. Yes, you read that right — even though people released from prison in Montana have the right to vote, we have to make a law requiring officers to inform them. At FMT we come across people all the time who think they can’t vote because of a previous felony! There’s a hearing on this one on February 5, and REMEMBER any attempts to quash this bill are blatant voter suppression. Thank you, and goodnight.
In Case You Missed It
This op-ed from members of Montana’s Indian Caucus lays out why the prevalence of missing and murdered indigenous women is a statewide crisis, and reminds us of the bills to support so Montana can see change. You can also check out these badass photos and videos from Native Days of Action this past week.
That’s all for this week. See you next Sunday!
Margaret Grayson is Forward Montana’s Legislative Communications Fellow. A recent graduate of University of Montana, Margaret spent three years with the Montana Kaimin as a reporter and editor and interned at the Missoula Independent (RIP). Now she writes jokes for the internet and works to educate young folks about the legislative session.